September 24, 2017

Two Webster basketball players kneel during National Anthem at home opener

Colin Kaepernick started a movement in professional sports when he knelt during the National Anthem. That movement has made its way onto Webster University’s basketball court Nov. 15.

Before the 61-60 loss by the Webster University men’s basketball team to Washington University, a game coming down to two free throws with 0.8 seconds left by freshman Enrique Tankins, two players for the Gorloks took a knee during the National Anthem.

Senior guard Jonathan Odjo and freshman guard Josh Johnson were the two players. The action started in the beginning of the season at an exhibition game against Drury University Nov. 11. Odjo and Johnson already discussed kneeling before the season started with men’s basketball Head Coach Chris Bunch.

“We had a discussion before practice talking about it just for me to get off my reasoning and at least if they don’t respect it, they can be in support of it,” Odjo said. “Coach Bunch says he would rather us stand, but he’s not going to stop me from kneeling. So I think that was just a big part for me, knowing that I had the group of guys in my locker room supporting me.”

Odjo said he has heard of some backlash through the grapevine from parents of teammates, but the locker room supports him and he is just there to play basketball and that is his focus.

Johnson has heard about backlash from parents who said they are disrespectful to the people who have served. He said that is not the case.

“I don’t mean to offend anyone who risked their lives, and I really appreciate the sacrifices that have been made,” Johnson said. “With that being said, we live in a society where minorities are constantly being discriminated against based only on the color of their skin. Until America’s true promise of freedom and equality is given to everyone I will continue to kneel and fight for this movement.”

Bunch said he is not one to kneel himself, but will support his players in whatever decision they decide to make.

“This is the United States of America. It’s a free country. You can feel how you feel and that’s what is great about this country,” Bunch said. “Everyone has to do what they feel in their situation and that’s what those guys feel strongly enough about and I respect that. I told every guy to do whatever you feel guided to do and we’re going to understand where each other comes from and support each other.”

Bunch said the players’ decision to kneel is a non-issue in regards to the team and does not think it will affect chemistry amongst teammates.

Odjo said he wants to educate people. He wants people to know that in no way is he disrespecting anyone, but sees the platform he is using as one to educate his fellow students.

“I think a lot of people misrepresent it and they say, ‘Oh, you know you’re disrespecting the veterans and this and this.’ For me it has nothing to do with the veterans. I have family that served and stuff like that,” Odjo said. “For me, it’s just about spreading awareness because I can’t shake the fact that I’m African-American in America. I can’t turn the blind cheek to what is going on in this nation. It’s just my way of showing that I’m in support because sometimes we may be a little bit blinded.”

Johnson, however, wanted to send a message.

“I knelt because America is considered ‘the land of the free,’ but minorities are not treated fairly. I wanted to take a stand and send a message,” Johnson said. “I want people to know that I am not afraid to take a stand and fight for what I believe in.”

Neither athlete said they will stop any time soon and don’t believe it will be a distraction on the court.

Both players said they hope their courage will embolden teammates to support their cause and spread awareness for the injustice toward minorities.

“I would love for them join me and Odjo. I won’t be upset if they don’t join nor will I ask them to. If they feel the same way we feel about the injustice minorities face and aren’t afraid to stand up and fight, then they will join us,” Johnson said.

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